So I’ve been praying regularly (the idea was everyday, but my life’s kinda crazy, so whenever I think of it), for God to show me what forgiveness really means, what it looks like practically for me. And, after talking with Kirsten, my mentor/discipler here, I recognized that the learning process might have already begun, so gently that I haven’t even realized it. Awesome.
And then God keeps popping little lessons throughout the past couple of classes that compliment perfectly what He’s working inside me. Last week, for example, we were going through 1 Samuel, and came to 16:1-4. Saul’s just made a major mistake (he was told to utterly destroy the Amalekites, but instead killed whatever he wanted to, taking the rest for himself), and God has told him, through Samuel, that his disobedience just cost his descendants the throne and that He has given “it [the throne] to [Saul’s] neighbor, who is bettter” (1 Sam 15:28). Chapter 16 starts out with Samuel being heartbroken; he’s the one who anointed Saul, he’s been with him from the beginning, he’s been there through all his victories and mess-ups. And there it is, Saul has failed. Saul’s complete disregard for the Lord has broken Samuel’s heart. But God told Samuel,
“You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse who lives there, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.”
But Samuel asked, “How can I do that? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”
The Lord replied…. “I will show you which of his sons to anoint for me.” So Samuel did as the Lord instructed.” 1 Samuel 16:1-4.
As we read this passage, my mind flashed to my forgiveness journey. Samuel had completely given up on Saul. God had left Saul to his decision, and had already set someone else aside to fill his place (think: David).
But when do we reach that point in our lives, where we can just give up on someone? The only reason Samuel could give up on his relationship with Saul that God directly told him to. And that’s the kicker. God is in charge, and He only takes so many slaps in the face before He just leaves you to your own way (Romans 1:18-32). But, and it’s a crucial “but”, unless God gives us the direct revelation that this person has reached that Romans 1, Saul point, as far as our relationship with them is concerned, they have limitless chances to try again. We have no right to give up on them, to dismiss them. We don’t always have to maintain the same kind of relationship, but you don’t have the right to just give up on the relationship altogether. We are to extend the same grace that was extended to us, “bearing with one another, and forgiving each other.. just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” Colossians 3:13.
And then today, we made it to David’s most infamous blunder, adultery with Bathsheba and his attempt at covering up, in 2 Samuel. I really wrestled with 11:27; after all David’s mistakes, he just marries the girl, so that makes it all better? Moving on? David’s doing the right thing now, so all his past sins are just over now…. What about repentance?
That got me thinking… How am I to respond to someone who, after patterns of sinful, unrepentant behavior, just suddenly chooses to do the right thing? No repentance, just right choices. How do I, as a believer, respond? Do I stop them in their tracks and demand repentance out of them? Or do I just roll with it, forgetting the past and emphasizing their current choices? Well, I really don’t think the first option would work, nor am I capable or called to make anyone repent.
As I chewed on this concept, slowly the right picture came into view. I should acknowledge that their past actions were wrong, but once that’s been acknowledged, I just need to move on and encourage them in their right choices. It’s not fair for me to both demand Godly behavior and keep bringing up past wrongs; no one can stand up under such pressure. I need to realize that their sin is between them and God, that He will either let them keep living in their sin (they’ve reached that Saul point) or He’ll bring them to a point of repentance (like He did David, in 2 Sam 12:13). Even after repenting, they’ll likely still have to deal with the consequences of their sin (David sure did), but they’ll be in right standing with the Lord, who will give them the strength to glorify Him through the difficulty.
So really, forgiveness is relinquishing my “right” (need, really) to demand change from the other person. It’s seeing the person as one loved of God, with limitless chances to repent (unless God says otherwise), and encouraging any Godly change you see within them.
Kind of a revolutionary idea, really…